She took a breath and blurted out, “I need another favor. I need you to go to the police station and find out if anything has been done with the investigation. Cordie went last time, so it’s your turn.”
“My turn? I just joined in this—”
“It’s still your turn,” Sophie pointed out.
“Why can’t you go to the police station?” Regan asked.
“Are you serious? I’m a reporter. They won’t tell me anything.”
Before Regan could say a word, Sophie said, “Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You too, Cordie. So I’m not a full-fledged investigative reporter yet, and, yes, I know you know I haven’t written any big exposés yet, and I’ve been working my butt off on the advice column at the paper for almost five frickin’ years, but honestly, Regan, you should have more faith in me. You too, Cordie,” she said again. “Everything’s going to change soon. You’ll see.”
“I have complete faith in you,” Regan protested. “And I wasn’t thinking …” She suddenly stopped arguing and laughed. “You’re really good, Soph, with the guilt thing.”
“She’s a pro all right,” Cordie said.
“I was trying to guilt you, wasn’t I? Old habits die hard, I suppose. But I still can’t go to the police station because there are always reporters hanging around in case something big happens, and one of them will surely recognize me and want to know what I’m doing there. I know how busy you are …”
“I can make the time,” Regan promised.
Sophie was thrilled. “You do understand why I don’t want any other reporter snooping around, don’t you? This is my investigation. I want to be the one to nail Shields and get justice for Mary Coolidge.”
“And maybe get yourself a Pulitzer?” Cordie asked.
Sophie smiled. “That’s a one-in-a-billion possibility, but one can always hope. That’s not why I’m doing it, though.”
“We know,” Cordie said. “Shouldn’t you get going, Soph?”
Sophie looked at her watch and groaned. “I’m gonna be late. I’ve got to get out of here,” she said as she grabbed her purse. “Will one of you pay for my lunch? I’ll pay for dinner tonight.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Cordie said.
“What time are you picking me up?” Sophie asked. “And who’s driving?”
While Cordie was answering, the sleazebag and his babycakes girlfriend caught Regan’s eye as they strolled out of the restaurant. Cordie noticed the change in her friend’s expression and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“That creepy old man hanging all over that twelve-year-old.”
Cordie turned and spotted the couple. “She isn’t twelve. She’s got to be at least eighteen. Otherwise he could get busted.”
“And he’s what? Sixty?”
“He could be,” she said. “And the age difference bothers you because …”
“You’re sounding like a therapist.”
“I just think you ought to admit why you’re so disgusted. The couple remind you of your creepy stepfather and his sleazy bride.”
“Of course they do.”
“I thought I was helping you make a breakthrough.” She smiled then. “You really need to lighten up a little. It’s time.”
Regan nodded. She knew Cordie was right. She just wasn’t sure how to go about it.
“I’ve had the most horrible morning. Have you got time for me to do some whining?”
“How much whining?”
Cordie laughed. “I can give you ten minutes. Then I’ve got to leave.”
Regan immediately launched into her complaints about her job, her brother Aiden’s constant interference, and her run-in with his assistant, Emily. When she told Cordie that Henry had caught Emily snooping in her office, Cordie was incensed and said, “You need to fire her ass.”
Regan’s eyes widened. Cordie laughed. “I’m starting to sound like my students. You do need to fire her, though.”
“I can’t. She’s Aiden’s assistant. He has to fire her,” she said. “But knowing you’re as outraged as I am makes me feel better. I’ve done enough whining for now. I think I’ll order another iced tea and read this diary. Then I’ll walk over to the police station. I’m going to stay positive,” she added.
“How are you going to do that?”
“I’m going to believe that the day is going to get better.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. And good luck with Detective Sweeney.” Before Regan could ask why, she added, “He’s the man you’ll have to talk to about the investigation. He’s a real piece of work.”
“I’m not worried. How bad can he be?”
DETECTIVE BENJAMIN SWEENEY, KNOWN BY HIS INITIALS, B. S., TO all the other detectives in the department, was having a worse than usual bad day. It started at five-thirty A.M., when he woke up with a hangover that felt like a jackhammer drilling behind his eyeballs. The only medicine that would take away the hallucination and stop the pain was what had caused it in the first place, another stiff drink of bourbon, which he downed in two thirsty gulps. It burned his throat and took the hair off his tongue. Bleary-eyed, he gargled Listerine to hide the smell of the booze, got dressed, and went to the dentist. At seven he had a bad root canal. By nine the shot of novocaine had worn off, and he was in agony. Then, at ten, the sun vanished, heavy dark clouds moved in, and he got soaked running from his car into a roach-infested apartment building with his partner, Lou Dupre. They climbed four flights to stare down at the decomposing body of a young twentysomething female. There were empty crack vials littering the room. Sweeney figured one druggie had offed another. No real loss that he could see.
He also knew there wouldn’t be any identification on the victim—that would have been too easy—and of course he was right. There wasn’t. Usually he could complain enough to make Dupre do all the paperwork and the running around in circles before the file was put in the “still pending” drawer, which Sweeney had secretly labeled “who gives a damn.”
Today, however, Dupre wasn’t cooperating. He called Sweeney an as**ole, told him he was sick and tired of his constant bitching, and insisted he was going to have to get off his lazy fat ass and start pulling his own weight.
In all the movies about cops and robbers that Sweeney had watched on television while he was drinking himself into oblivion, the detectives were like brothers with their partners. One would take a bullet—and inevitably did before the movie was over—for the partner. A frickin’ love affair in the movies. A fairy tale. In Sweeney’s miserable world—the real world—he and his partner, Dupre, hated each other’s guts. There were times when Sweeney would fantasize about a good old-fashioned shootout where he could get behind his partner and blow his brains out.
He knew the feeling was mutual. Hell, these days everyone in the department was avoiding him as if he had the clap. They knew he was under investigation, unofficial though it was, and they had decided to condemn him before any of the facts were in. Sweeney wasn’t worried about Internal Affairs. Yes, he was guilty of taking the money to look the other way while a drug dealer was killed, but the men who paid him to close his eyes weren’t in any position to rat on him. And the money, ten thousand dollars, was clean. Squeaky clean. Sweeney had been real careful. Let the task force listen to all the rumors from the out-of-work whores the murdered dealer had been running. It didn’t matter to Sweeney. If they had anything concrete, he would already have been suspended.
Sweeney had two years and three months to go before he could retire, but there were days, like today, when he knew he wasn’t going to make it. He could understand what happened inside a madman’s head just seconds before he opened fire on his coworkers, and sometimes he got a hard-on just thinking about Dupre’s blood and guts splattered all over the walls.
Before she’d run off with their boy, his wife had told him that he’d turned as mean as a rabid rottweiler and that the booze had corroded his brain. His response hadn’t been very clever, but he’d gotten his point across. He’d backhanded her and ordered her to get his supper on the table. Later that night, while he was watching some brotherly love movie on TV, she’d packed up some suitcases and sneaked out the back door with the kid, but he’d caught up with her as she was starting her old Honda Civic. He’d reached in through the window she was frantically trying to roll up, ignoring the kid screaming in the backseat, grabbed her by the throat, and told her it would be fine and dandy with him if he never laid eyes on her or the brat again. He leaned in real close to her face then and told her that if she ever tried to get so much as a dime in alimony or child support he would come after her with an ax.
She must have known from the look in his eyes he wasn’t bluffing. He never heard from her again, and as the days and nights dragged on, he became convinced that he was better off living alone.
No matter what the gossip in the department said, he wasn’t a drunk. Not yet anyway. He was just tired of having to deal with all the scum on the streets. Chicago had turned into a cesspool where only degenerates knew how to survive and thrive. Like bacteria, they multiplied and flourished in the filth.
He was afraid the bacteria had already invaded his body and that he was slowly turning into one of them. And when he got real scared and the booze wouldn’t dull the night terrors, he’d fantasize about taking early retirement. All he needed was one big score, and he could walk away. Screw the pension. If he hit it big, he could buy a boat and sail to the Bahamas. He’d never even been on a boat, and he’d never been to the islands, but the brochures he kept tacked up on the wall above his bureau had lots of photos showing how clean the place was.
He wanted to walk down a clean street, breathe clean, unpolluted air, look up and see a clean blue sky without a trace of gray haze, but most of all, he wanted to feel clean again.
Whenever any dark fantasies got in the way of his concentration, he would buy a bottle of bourbon, take a sick day, and go on a little binge. The way he figured it, he was doing the taxpayers a favor. If he stayed holed up at home and got roaring drunk, he was protecting the law-abiding citizens of Chicago by not killing them.
He knew he had to hang on and stay sane until he either hit the big score or until his pension kicked in, and so he tried to find a little happiness in the day-to-day things. Tonight, for example, was going to make him very happy. His shift would be over in just twenty minutes, and unlike his kiss-ass partner, he wasn’t going to stay a minute longer. He’d gotten his paycheck today, and so tonight he was going to treat himself to an expensive porterhouse steak, then drive across town to Lori’s School of Beauty, which fronted for a thriving whorehouse, and get himself a free haircut and blow job from one of the hookers who was too afraid of him to turn him down. He planned to cap off his romantic evening with an old friend, Jack Daniel’s Black Label.
Time was creeping by. He must have checked his watch twice in the last minute. Nineteen more to go. God, he hated this place. His desk was on the far right of an ugly oblong room. The side of his desk butted up against a pea green wall. Some mornings, as he was climbing the stairs to the second floor of the station, he would feel as if he were going into a sweatshop, so crowded and dismal was the place. There was talk of remodeling, but, thus far, only one room had new paint.
He leaned back in his chair and looked around. There was a handful of detectives working at their cluttered desks, most on their phones, but none of them were paying any attention to him. Sweeney thought he could get away with leaving early and not be missed.
That possibility was quickly squelched when the new prick boss came up the stairs. Lieutenant Lewis had only been in charge for five weeks, but it was long enough for Sweeney to decide he hated him. The lieutenant didn’t like problems, and after I.A. had a little chat with him about their unofficial investigation, Lewis had turned against Sweeney. Well, screw him. The prick didn’t want any of Sweeney’s dirt to rub off on him. Too late, Sweeney thought with a snicker.
Lewis wasn’t so pristine either. Sweeney watched him saunter into his glassed office at the back of the room. He’d gotten wind that Lewis was screwing around on his rich, high-society wife. Every man had secrets he didn’t want anyone else to know about, and if the lieutenant kept breathing down his neck, Sweeney had made up his mind to do a little investigative work of his own. It’d be easy for him to find out who the whore servicing Lewis was and take a few photos for the little missus. He’d do it anonymously, of course. How would Lewis live without his rich-bitch wife paying all the bills? Maybe Sweeney ought to buy one of those digital cameras and send the wife some explicit eight-by-ten photos. Hell, he might as well have some real fun and post them on the Internet too. He caught himself before he laughed out loud over the possibility. Serve the prick right if the missus took a scissors to his expensive suits, smashed that Rolex he always made sure everyone noticed, and kicked him out on his bony ass.
Tit for tat. He knew Lewis was keeping a notebook on him, listing all the little infractions, so he could weed him out without getting into trouble with the union, but as long as Sweeney stayed careful, Lewis couldn’t fire him.
Only three lousy minutes had passed. He shuffled some papers around on his desk and looked over his shoulder again. Crap. Lewis was watching him. He hastily turned back to his papers and opened a file, pretending to be engrossed.
Alec Buchanan came rushing up the stairs. The undercover detective looked like a drugged-out gang leader with his long, dark hair, bloodshot eyes, and scraggly beard. Buchanan hadn’t been in this division long. He’d transferred over a short time ago, and before that he’d been strictly vice. Sweeney had never spoken to him, but he knew him by reputation. You didn’t want to get on his bad side.
A young street cop in blue chased after Buchanan. His expression was pained, and he was sweating profusely. Sweeney pretended to be engrossed in his paperwork until the two men went into the lieutenant’s office. Then he picked up the phone, punched the hold button, and with the receiver to his ear, turned in his chair to see what was going on.
Lewis didn’t waste any time throwing a tantrum. His anger was directed at the kid cop. Sweeney tried not to smile as he watched the lieutenant lose it. He kept stabbing the air with one long, bony finger as he railed.